Art Modell was no Al Davis

by Cleveland Frowns on January 29, 2013

Art Modell’s acolytes in the Baltimore press are at it again and the latest might be the worst yet. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, former longtime Ravens reporter for the Baltimore Sun closes his column with a tug at the heartstrings.

“I still believe Modell will end up [enshrined, but t]he moment will be bittersweet,” Hensley says. “[B]ecause Modell should’ve been there a long time ago. He should’ve been there in Canton to enjoy it.”

But only after he ignores the mountain of evidence against a Modell candidacy that stands fully apart from what Art did to Cleveland and the Real Browns in ’95 (“Take away the relocation and Modell is a slam dunk to get in,” says Hensley), to completely dismiss the re/dis-location issue by pointing to legendary Hall of Fame Raiders owner Al Davis, first by way of a ridiculous and transparently self-serving quote from Modell himself:

Before Modell’s final season as the Ravens’ majority owner in 2003, I asked him about his chances of ever reaching Canton. His response: “I know [Raiders owner] Al Davis is in and he moved the team twice. Doesn’t that say something to you?”

From which Hensley extrapolates:

It’s hard to argue against Modell on this point. Davis was enshrined in 1992, which was 10 years after he moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. The Hall can’t have one set of rules for Davis and another for Modell.


Rule No 1

Because a guy who makes a living writing about the NFL for the worldwide leader in sports coverage needs to be reminded that a comparison to what Davis meant to the Raiders and the NFL to that of what Modell meant to the Browns and the same is more than completely backwards in this context, here’s the Kanicki website setting forth in detail that Modell actually comes nowhere close to Davis as a “pioneer and original thinker in the fields of coaching, talent acquisition, competition, branding, and culture.”

And because Hensley wants to lionize Modell as “a leader on diversity” due to Art having made the no-brainer move of appointing Ozzie Newsome the Ravens GM, it’s worth a look back at the excellent 2011 eulogy from Mr. Destructo on Davis that gets into some useful detail on what it means to be a real “leader on diversity”:

For years, we’ve been treated to “Al Davis: Evil, Insane Megalomaniac,” and questions about whether he’s ruining football. And, really, it’s not surprising when you consider how he’s made a career rejecting the NFL’s power structure, the people most of the mainstream NFL talking heads spend roughly 25 weeks per year taint-sucking like shit-starved remorae. At the beginning of the 1980s, he committed the greatest of all possible sins: he challenged the NFL’s monopoly in court on an anti-trust basis and won, later endorsing the USFL. (Oddly, Howard Cosell has some of the most entertaining and passionate coverage of Davis’ legal battles in an otherwise terrible book.) On top of a career of fierce loyalty to players even after trades or retirement and criticism of their treatment by the league, he abstained from the recent owners’ votes on the NFL labor agreement. In effect, he’s been a traitor to his class for three decades, advocating increased competition for ownership, challenging their preposterously cozy legal status, while giving aid and comfort to the labor pool that tries to suck owners’ idly accrued wealth rightfully downward.

This open support of players was perhaps best exemplified by his courting of outcasts, malcontents and head cases. For most of his career, Davis succeeded with bad guys, non-“character” guys, the people who thwarted the league-desired and often team-enforced player image. His stewardship of the Raiders started when other teams still dressed in matching colored blazers for travel days. Later, his bearded, countercultural and fast-living players gave the lie to the canard that “character” brings excellence. Instead, the Raiders showed that excellence makes character irrelevant. Nothing creates chemistry like winning; as we saw with the Boston Red Sox this season, nobody goes in search of the wrong personalities and the wrong character until a losing streak. The Raiders’ very existence impeached the corporatized, authoritarian, consumer-oriented bleaching of players in the name of a cynical morality.

That last pro-individual, anti-market impulse marks the basis on which we should celebrate Davis the most. In the 1960s, Davis was willing to risk alienating the lucrative football-crazy southern market when he pulled two games from venues there after learning that black players would be segregated in separate hotels, away from their teams. When it came to markets or morals, Davis told Jim Crow to go f*ck itself. Later, he required no NFL-imposed rules to push to recruit black players in the south in the 1950s, to hire the first female CEO, the first (and, for 32 years, the only) hispanic head coach or the first black head coach in the modern era. On that last account, he beat the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rooney family by 17 years.

So what did Modell do again? How was he a leader of anything in comparison to Davis?


UPDATE: Jamison Hensley “responds.”


J4 j6 j7 j8 j9J2

Len Shapiro, he’s not.


Don’t forget to read Kanicki’s and Mr. Destructo’s posts because there’s a lot more there.

  • jimkanicki

    glad you were as struck and offended by the davis-modell comparisons as i was.

    in addition to my points and destructo’s fleshing out that going against the old-boys network is not a friend-winning enterprise, there’s the buying of most successful team in history versus creating iconic team/brand/legacy out of nothing angle that none of us explored.

  • Guest

    There’s actually a “movement” here in Charlotte to have the Bobcats become the Hornets again. I say “movement” because it consists of a vocal minority, many younger than 30, who honestly think changing the name will heal everything that happened from 1997-2002 and make pro basketball the hottest ticket in town again.

    Of course, as this post illustrates, what happened happened. There’s a reason people who were older than 19 years old back in 2002 aren’t a part of that movement. It’s because they won’t be the Real Hornets, and we’re going to see it again with the SuperSonics.

    So, here’s a question for Cleveland Sports Fans about the Current Browns: In retrospect, given that the Real Browns aren’t in Cleveland anymore, is it better to have kept the name for the new iteration (assuming the team in Baltimore wouldn’t get to use it either), or would it have been better to start with a new name?

    • Chris Mc

      I don’t know if the rage I would feel would ever subside if Cleveland’s football team had to play the Baltimore Browns twice a year, especially considering what Modell did to the team’s namesake.

    • SeattleBrownsFan

      It’s kind of funny (not) that all of these Supersonics fans who were crying because they lost their team to another city are now ecstatic that the Kings are going to be the Supersonics. Guess they all forgot how it felt to have their team sold out from under them.

      • BigDigg

        I’d like to think that if the ‘new’ Browns were instead a relocated team that i’d have washed my hands with them by now. Wouldn’t be able to stand a combination of piss poor ownership/management + the dirty feeling of having stolen someone else’s beloved.

        For Seattle fans who were legitimately wronged by the NBA this new team isn’t justice. They’ll soon come to understand that they’ll always be linked to OKC and the next decade or so will be particularly shitty as Durant racks up hardware and the ‘new’ Sonics attempt to scrub of the King-ness stench.

    • bupalos

      I’ve never gone for this “the Ravens are the Real Browns” thing at all. To me, if you extract the city and fanbase from a team, that is now a totally different team. The Baltimore team is the illegitimate one. They are the zombie browns and it’s appropriate they adopted a carrion bird (by way of a poet they ignored to death) as their mascot. The only complication with this is Ozzie Newsome.

      We have the real Browns because the real Browns are Cleveland. The only reason a lot of folks talk as if the current Browns are somehow less than the old Browns is because going on a decade and a half losing binge makes some folks edge towards whatever exit and excuse is available.

      • Cleveland Frowns

        This. To Guest from Charlotte, this. Thanks, bup, and for the reminder that Baltimore ignored Poe to death.

      • Jeff

        Doesn’t “edge towards whatever exit and excuse is available” imply there’s an obligation to be devoted, no matter how negative the return? That’s some powerful kool-aid.

        • bupalos

          Yeah to the extent that fans calculate “return,” they are not fans. Nothing wrong with not being a fan, it’s just once you are one you can’t not be one without some psychic cost, which in this case can be ameliorated by deciding “I didn’t leave the team, the team left me.”

          • Jeff

            Agree that love requires psychic cost. You can’t measure the quality of love (or righeous fan-dom) by how bad it hurts. The Browns have been a drag for a long time now, so if some people cling to Bernie and Hanford rather than embracing the parade of Shurmies and Braylons, that doesn’t mean they have to turn in their jerseys.

    • alexb

      ridiculous, the city is the team. What did Modell move? He moved the players but they’re not the totality of the team because they come and go…same with the front office and anybody else. We have the Browns because the team is in Cleveland. When the Kings move to Seattle they will be the supersonics….the team in OKC is the Thunder, not the sonics. That’s all there is to it.

  • Chris Mc

    If you can’t trust a Terp who happens to live in Baltimore and who has a past personal history with Modell and a guy (in Shapiro) who made a small fortune penning Modell’s biography to tell the whole truth about the multitude of failed business and personnel dealings by Art Modell, I don’t know who I can trust.

  • SeattleBrownsFan
  • nj0

    To add to a point Kanicki made- When Davis tried to move the Raiders to L.A. back in the early 80’s, Modell testified for the NFL and against the move.

    This from a NY Times article from March 10, 1982 titled “N.F.L. and Coliseum Explore Accord on Suit”-

    “A Los Angeles radio station, KLAC,reported that the league and the Commission were on the verge of an agreement that would put an N.F.L. expansion team in the city under the ownership of the Cleveland Browns owner, Art Modell. Both Modell and Rozelle emphatically denied that report.

    Modell, at his home in suburban Cleveland, said: ”There is no foundation to it, no truth to it.” Rozelle said: ”I have never heard of an arrangement for Modell to get an expansion franchise in L.A. Never.””

    Not sure if it is legit, but an interesting side note all the same.

    Did Art Modell, who over a decade relocated his team for his own financial gain, testify in court against the relocation of the Raiders simply for his own financial gain? You can’t say it’d be out of character for him.

    • jimkanicki

      layer on his vote FOR jax expansion (and against baltimore) and it seems plausible.

      • nj0

        It just blows my mind that, if true, it means that Art wasn’t testifying out of conviction or for the betterment of the league, but simply because he had a financial stake in making sure Al stayed out of Lala Land.

        Doesn’t sound Hall worthy to me.

      • DaveyDawg

        I lived in Baltimore in 1994-95. WBAL-TV was already reporting on rumors of the Browns moving to Baltimore in 1994. No one, publicly, thought much of it. But it adds up now.

  • Jimmy Weinland

    Baltimore hackdom: Their fans and media don’t want to feel guilty about stealing a Super Bowl winner, so if Art was in the Hall it would signify the Move was legit, and thus, so are the Ravens. It’s why their fans complain about the world being against them. If the Move really was no big deal then nobody would care. The persistence of this movement to support Art just proves how evil moving the Browns was and is.

  • Petefranklin

    Lets not forget that Modell was also responsible for the “blackout rule” so that his cavernous(2nd largest in NFL) stadium would squeeze every last dollar out of Browns fans who were unable to receive the game on TV signals from Erie, Toledo, or Columbus. Art also pulled some shenanigans in the early 80’s that had to do with the NFL making Art rebate $$$ in the form of reduced ticket prices to the fans. The argument that Art risked something by moving his team to the AFC is rediculous. He moved because he thought that the AFC was an easier path to championships, which never materialized.

    • jimkanicki

      * browns 1964 championship was blacked-out in cleveland.
      * first MNF was blacked-out in cleveland.
      * art also pocketed $3,000,000 for his predatory move to the AFC. no one in baltimore is pounding the table for carroll rosenbloom to enter the hall, i assure you.

      [i live to serve.]

      • bupalos

        Kanick, have you come to any understanding of how this guy continually lost so much money? I seriously can’t figure out how he did it, and you’d think that would have to at least be explained before the hall would even consider the case.

        I mean, suppose they enshrine him and then later it comes out that he was losing millions gambling on football or something.

        • jimkanicki

          guessing here, but here are a couple:

          1. chronically undercapitalized and so at all times borrowing heavily with interest rates pegged to prime rate which got up around 20% in the 70s.

          2. his minority partner bob gries owned like 43% of the browns. he let art play owner, but this guy had a big stake and as the 80s lawsuit showed, didnt suffer modell’s shenanigans lightly.

          3. just dumb. i dont know how else to look at the tardy revision of the blackout rules. (home games blacked-out until 1973.) how much more would tv contracts have been worth if home games were able to be seen on local tv.

          • bupalos

            Good thoughts. I’m zoning in on those cash revenue streams. That and the mob stuff go together and make for a great wildcard. But yeah, debt in the 70’s works fairly well too.

          • jimkanicki

            i swear i didnt plan this but i found some info and a modell mob links post is up.

        • nj0

          What were his personal finances like? Was it just funneling money into his own pockets at the expense of his franchise? The Gries saga makes that sound plausible.

  • CrazyTrain1

    “Take away the relocation and Modell is a slam dunk to get in,” says Hensley.

    Ugh. Setting aside the fact that Modell is not a HOFer regardless of the move, even if he were, one cannot dismiss the move in the analysis of Modell’s credentials. You have to judge the entire record of the man, not just the good parts of it. It’s like the Weeden supporters saying, “without his interceptions, Weeden would have had a great rookie season.” Yes, but so what? Or to use some historical analogies, take away the Japanese internment, President Roosevelt was a great President on civil rights. Or, take away the invasion of Russia, and Hitler and the Germans were brilliant military tacticians.

    • Chris Mc

      Take away all the bad trades, and Ted Stepien was a great owner.

      • mo_by_dick

        Take away the fly, and a dragonfly is a dragon.

        • Cleveland Frowns

          Take away Brady Quinn, D.A., Delhomme, Seneca and Chips McCoy and Mangini should have done a lot more with the QBs he had to work with in Cleveland.

          • Chris Mc

            Take away Dawgpound Mike, and we probably have a playoff team.

          • Cleveland Frowns

            Take away the sports teams and Cleveland’s the happiest town there is.

          • Cleveland Frowns


      • Petefranklin

        I assume you are talking about pro softball and not the cavs.

        • Chris Mc

          Come on, the Teddi-Bears carry enough goodwill to cover trading away the pick that became James Worthy, right?

          Also, I remember reading about this but I was too young to actually remember it. This is phenomenal.

      • nj0

        Take away the iceberg and the Titanic is a helluva ride.

      • PML

        Take away the western part and PA is a great state.

  • nj0

    What amazes me about most of the current crop of pro-Art articles is that they don’t even make a case for him. They simply assume it to be an accepted, understood fact that he’s got a HOF resume. It’s the worst kind of media hand waving.

    • Cleveland Frowns

      It’s one of the most blood boiling sports media failures of recent memory. And what might be most depressing the Cleveland sports media establishment’s failure to rise to the occasion. Have I missed anything?

      • nj0

        Nope. Think you got it covered. Maybe you could reiterate that Jim Kanicki did rise to the occasion, which you’ve got to love. When you hit your knees tonight, please ask God to love it too.

        • Cleveland Frowns

          Well present company excluded of course, but good point. And I guess Livy could have done worse with this:

          But if a Willy Loman comparison and Grossi mailbag excerpts is all we get at the last stand of the potential induction of one of the worst Cleveland sports villains imaginable …

          • nj0

            Say what you will about Grossi, but there is evidence that he brings his A-game to committee.

            But as for the rest of them, anybody really surprised?

  • Cleveland Frowns

    Oddly enough I can’t get Hensley to respond to any of my tweets either. It’s like I’m a leper or speaking Urdu or something.

    • Cleveland Frowns

      Still nothing from Hensley. I think this means we can start referring to him henceforth as J-Ho, now.

  • p_forever

    i suddenly really like al davis (my super hatred for art modell remains unchanged. and i’m really glad you wrote this, and i learned a lot from it.

  • manc

    Hey, who wants to get onboard with my Bill Bidwell to the HOF campaign? He had a mediocre W-L record and moved his team too!!
    The whole Modell to the HOF thing is a bad joke. Even if he hadn’t moved the Browns he wouldn’t be HOF worthy.

  • jimkanicki

    a HOF voter pimping was just on bull and fox. he did the same damn ‘two sets of rules/al davis’ thing that hensley did.

    he even started telling some story about art not being able to get the city to fix his bathrooms. (art was responsible for maintenance in exchange for free use of 80,000 seat stadium.)

    it’s a good thing that only 11 votes against are needed. HOF votes like this guy reflect that the lazy hensley narrative prevails with many of these guys.

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